By Daniel Kiazyk
Every species has its challenges. Even though most people will tell you that goldeye are easy to catch they can present some specific challenges at certain times of the summer months. Part of the mystique of this little scrapper of a fish in mind is that they aren’t always there or at least there are periods in the summer where they’ll develop such an acute case of lock-jaw that they seem to have disappeared.
OK, 90% of the time, (time after time or time and time again) as one fishing personality puts it goldeye aren’t all that tough to catch. These little predators like to bite. When prepared properly (with smoke and marinade) they are truly delicious fish. Commercially even the goldeye has importance for our province. But this latter point may explain the consistently smaller size we see in certain areas throughout our province’s waterways. It’s a bit ironic though that many of the goldeye smoked in Winnipeg probably don’t come from Lake Winnipeg any more but rather some upper arm of the Missouri river or Lake Sakakewea.
The “where” for goldeye really depends on the season but I’ve found over the years that even that will depend upon the angler targeting the species. Even the best season is debatable as I’ve seen the following patterns as being present: 1) Assiniboine River late spring; 2) Red River late spring size and numbers, beginning of August size; 3) Carrot River, and the Saskatchewan River spring bite size and numbers. A pattern where can also be determined for fisheries by looking at the Manitoba Master Angler book (just resurfaced from a short hiatus). It’s easy enough to see that there are some places at certain times that are better at upping your odds for good goldeye fishing.
The actual how is variable but two types of rigs predominate: In the Assiniboine river bottom oriented rigs do very well as a majority of the fishing is done from shore. On the Red, float rigs as well as bottom oriented rigs work very well. On the Saskatchewan Carrot Rivers once again many prefer bottom rigs but float rigs work very well.
Looking a little more closely at these little predators gives a clear view as to their voraciousness and perhaps a good view as to why we seem to catch them all over the water column at all times of the day. That big golden eye in proportion to the rest of their body indicates a predator that sees well and uses its sight to feed. I don't know if you've ever tried or experienced it but at times the night bite at the dam at lockport can be excellent when everyone else is in bed. Looking at the fish' mouth also gives an idea of how much of a predator these fish are. The not only have teeth on their upper and lower jaw but they also have teeth on their tongue! The width of their body also gives this little fish an ability to fight very well for its size. Try fishing with an ultra-light outfight and you'll get a greater appreciation for this scrappy, out of the water, bull dogging little fish.
Bait is an important factor when trying to be consistently successsful when fishing for goldeye. At times goldeye seem to show a preference for minnows but on other occasions worms seem to do the trick. In the fall while fishing for walleye I’ve also caught them with Powerbait. Finally I’ve caught the old goldeye on floating crankbaits – while targeting suspended walleyes. As has already been mentioned goldeye like to bite… find ‘em and put the bait in front of them and they’ll bite or at least that’s what they usually do
Knowing the biology of the goldeye is of some importance when setting this species in your sights. They are an early spring spawner but only seem to turn to bite after their spawn in early June. The bite does wane into July. However as though poked by a stick these little guys go back on the feedbag again in the middle to latter part of August.
Pick the right time of year, place and bait and you can have goldeye turn a kid onto fishing. I seen it a few times. Kids just love these little critters.
Well, the usual patterns will set themselves up and the goldeye will be caught quite easily and with some regularity year in year out. I could head over to the same spots that always produced and they still will. However, and this is the big mystery that surrounds these little fish, all of a sudden the bite will stop leaving even the persistent scratching their head… Why don’t they cooperate? Is it that sudden changes in water that moves their forage or is it a hatch of mayflies whose evening hatch put the goldeye gorging themselves on this banquet of sorts. I’ve also heard it said that fluctuations in water levels will move bait and subsequently the goldeye will move following their forage.
Well to start to resolve the problem of “Where did the goldeye go?” I try different depths and different baits. When I start catching sauger, drum and cats (other species indigenous to the Red) I have to start to think differently – the goldeye just aren’t there.. Perhaps the next step is to change location. In some instances I look for similar areas that no so long ago would have produced fish. I’ll try different locations because fish have moved in the past. However after about the 5th change in locale working different depths and baits that I arrive at the conclusion that something more drastic is in order.
Solving the puzzle in this situation is not a complete science. In some instances I’ve tried fishing in every location that I can possibly think of and yet to no avail. Yet on other days I’ll catch just a few and on others it’ll be spotty at best – This past year is an example of where they just disappeared for two weeks. I had never seen goldeye disappear so completely….Where did they go? I don’t really know but all I can say is that I spent some time trying to figure it out. Some of the places I would go short of turning over rocks on the river’s bottom would be deep, shallow, slack water, current, piers, locks, bait, floodway, combat fishing near the ladder, every little nook and cranny known to fishing in the area. Success, well sort of, some days I would get back into them and in the next six days the pattern wasn’t there…
About a month after the fish became really persnickety the fish turned on like they had turned off. All I can say for this little fish is that they like to bite when they are around. Where they go sometimes is anyone’s guess. It’s just nice to get them back on the bite. And how surprising it is that all the previous struggle is forgotten as soon as that floats drops below the surface with some regularity.
This is one fish that really is mysterious on occasion and from a number of different perspectives. Taking this fish for granted as being there always ready to bite can be a certain source for dilemma. Most folks like to think that any fish can be patterned most of the time. The goldeye however can show that even the best fishing rules are always applicable to fish who may not know the rules. I guess there’s something to be said for hard and fast rules when it comes to fishing any species. Nonetheless I harbour an admiration for this little fish who bites and fights with vigour…. And they have a lesson to teach the proud hubris filled angler…. Firstly, sometimes it’s good to be humbled. Secondly, staying the course will eventually get you what you’re after (even though it might be more than a couple of days before the fish re-appear)…. And finally there’s always something to learn…. I like fishing for these fish!